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Oxford professor of Islamic studies charged with raping two women

The Guardian logo The Guardian 03/02/2018 Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

Tariq Ramadan: Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan has been charged with rape and is being held in custody in France. © Reuters Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan has been charged with rape and is being held in custody in France. The prominent Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan, a professor of contemporary Islamic studies at the University of Oxford, has been charged with rape and ordered to remain in custody in France.

Ramadan, 55, is being held on charges of rape and rape of a vulnerable person after two women accused him of violently assaulting them in hotel rooms in Lyon and Paris in 2009 and 2012 after conferences. 

Ramadan, a Swiss citizen whose grandfather Hassan al-Banna founded Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement, was taken into custody on Wednesday as part of a preliminary inquiry in Paris. 

A regular face on French television, he is the most prominent figure to be held in France after the women, emboldened by the #MeToo campaign to stamp out sexual assault and harassment, went to the police.

The professor – who made his name as an author and commentator on modern Islam, as well as advising successive British governments on Islam and society – has denied the separate accusations by the two women.

After two days of questioning Ramadan, who is married with four children, was brought before three magistrates who have been assigned to the case, suggesting that he is facing an extensive investigation, judicial sources told AFP. In the full investigation opened this week, French magistrates must establish whether he should stand trial.

The first police complaint against Ramadan was made by Henda Ayari, 41, a feminist activist who previously practised a conservative strain of Islam and now heads the women’s organisation Les Libératrices. 

She filed a complaint with prosecutors in Rouen in October 2017 alleging rape, sexual violence, harassment and intimidation by Ramadan. She said she was assaulted by him in a Paris hotel room after a conference in 2012.

“He choked me so hard that I thought I was going to die,” she told Le Parisien newspaper. “He slapped me because I resisted. He raped me. I felt I was in extreme danger.” She said she had gone to talk to him at his hotel after the conference as a kind of “big brother figure”.

Ayari had described the rape in a chapter of her 2016 book, I Chose to be Free, giving her assailant a made-up name and saying that an intellectual had attacked her in a hotel room. She fought back but was insulted, slapped and treated violently, she wrote.

After the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault and harassment scandal broke in the autumn of 2017 Ayari said she had decided to go public and name Ramadan. She made a formal complaint on October 20.

A few days later an anonymous disabled woman, a Muslim convert, accused the academic of raping and violently assaulting her in a hotel room in the south-eastern city of Lyon in 2009.

The French edition of Vanity Fair magazine, whose staff met the 45-year-old woman, said her lawsuit against Ramadan described “blows to the face and body, forced sodomy, rape with an object and various humiliations, including being dragged by the hair to the bathtub and urinated on”.

The woman said Ramadan had asked to meet her in the bar of the Hilton hotel in Lyon, where he was taking part in a conference in 2009. She had previously been in contact with him online for some months, seeking advice.

In online messages and chats, Ramadan had told the woman he was living separately from his wife, the French newspaper Le Monde reported.

In the hotel bar Ramadan had complained that people had recognised him and were staring at him, suggesting they instead go to his room. He took the stairs while the woman, who walks with a crutch after a car accident, took the lift. The woman said she was attacked very soon after entering the room, sustaining blows to the face, arms, breasts and stomach before being repeatedly raped.

During three hours of testimony in Paris on Thursday, the woman — referred to in the media by the pseudonym “Christelle” — recounted her allegations to the judge in Ramadan’s presence. She said that Ramadan had a small scar on his groin that could only be seen through close contact, a source said.

Rejecting her testimony outright, Ramadan refused to sign the official summary of the account, sources close to the case said. “Both sides maintained their positions,” a legal source said.

Eric Morain, Christelle’s lawyer, said the charges were “an important step” after what he called “a painstaking three-month investigation, 48 hours of police questioning and a confrontation with my client”.

Police have interviewed dozens of people close to both Ramadan and the two women, and examined email and social media exchanges between them.

Ramadan, a senior research fellow of St Antony’s College, took leave of absence from Oxford University last November “by mutual agreement” after the two women filed complaints.

He continues to head the Islamic Institute for Ethical Training in France.

Ayari was placed under police protection in November after receiving death threats.

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